The Road Safety Action Plan 2016-2020 among other of its 39 recommendations asks that risks and any potential benefits be investigated of allowing people to ride bicycles without a helmet in low speed environments.
Apart from allowing the breeze to ruffle your helmetless hair – but only in selected areas – the other benefit is the suggestion more people might take up riding bicycles if the helmet rule was relaxed.
Several issues arise from the recommendation and in no particular order: a rider to enjoy the freedom has to reach a free zone so a helmet still is a travel necessity. Will bareheaded cyclists be restricted to the zones by our already overburdened police force? Will the increase in people cycling and apparently hitherto deterred in affluent Canberra by the cost of a helmet really outweigh the risks of fatalities and injuries? Is it wise to have rules for cycling in different areas? Are children to be exempt? And apart from the ANU, parks are identified as low speed environments so do we differentiate with signs between paths and bike paths?
A 2013 NSW study quoted in the Plan said helmets reduced head injuries by 74 percent while 23 percent of people indicated they would ride more (not take up cycling) if helmets were not mandatory.
The cycling lobby in Canberra is politically active, sometimes sanctimonious and doubtless keen to increase its influence. However it needs to be remembered hilly ACT is not The Netherlands and people need cars here so commonsense is called for in addressing transport and environment requirements.
If the Plan’s intentions are realised, including a 10 percent cycling increase resulting in significant less traffic congestion, as reported from further interstate studies, it follows bicycles will become more numerous. Should they like people, like motor vehicles, then be subject to regulations?
To date controls on cyclists have been resisted because of health and environmental benefits. Nevertheless complaints do occur principally from accidents with walkers and the increasing cost to taxpayers of bike paths.
Registration of bicycles is often called for but with the number already in the community and the cost of administrating the scheme is not worthwhile. The better idea useful for an accident is cyclists be required to carry an ID, no great burden in these days of security.
Of course the argument no protection to encourage greater participation raises the question what’s next: motorcycles, ice hockey…?
The government has a lot of thinking to do.